QOO no. 88     February 17, 2010
      Sports Fan
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I don't follow sports of any kind, mainly because the whole competitive anything-to-win attitude turns me off. So I didn't know when my friend Phil came to stay for the weekend that there was some kind of big deal international track and field championship going on. Phil's an avid sports fan and didn't want to miss the coverage, so to be a good sport, hah-hah, I watched some of the events on TV with him. After a while I noticed that all the runners in the footraces were leaning over at the finish line, something I had never seen before. Phil explained to me that the winner is the one whose chest crosses the finish line first, so you can gain a couple hundredths of a second by bending forward during your last stride or two.

Turns out this practice was adopted after quite a long series of revisions of the rules. As Phil told me, at first the rulebook simply stated that whoever got to the finish line first won, without specifying a particular body part as the official benchmark. So eventually somebody got the idea of bending over and extending one or both arms to reach out ahead of their opponents. Pretty soon all the runners had to do this, and then they started growing their fingernails out to make their reach even longer, which was apparently what Florence Griffith Joyner was up to, although the rules changed in the middle of her career.

What happened was, there was this one woman sprinter who had really long hair, like four or five feet long, and she used to snap her head to flip it over the finish line and win even when she was a full stride behind the leader. This was counted as a body part, so everybody started doing it and after that all runners had to have really long straight, or in many cases straightened, hair if they wanted to have any chance of winning. Wigs didn't count. It got so by the time your hair had grown long enough to make you a viable contender at the top level, you were too old to run that fast. So it was decided that hair, and by association fingernails, wouldn't count any more.

Then some guy came up with the idea of controlled projectile vomiting. He would eat a big meal right before a race and as he approached the finish line he would spew out a plume of semi-digested food that would fly across the line five feet ahead of him. No one else could master the technique and he won a lot of races that way, until the officials adopted a rule specifically stating that body contents didn't constitute body parts. Which was good, because according to rumor the North Koreans were training their Olympic team to urinate in a powerful, targeted stream while running. Even the women.

The next development occurred sort of by accident: there was a miler in the 1995 Asian Games who had an artificial hand, and just as he was coming to the end of the race, in third place, his prosthesis came loose and flew across the finish line ahead of the leader. Since it was considered a body part, he was awarded the gold medal.

This led to all kinds of abuse, including athletes getting a finger surgically removed so they could have a prosthesis to take off and throw at the finish line. Then when artificial body parts were disqualified in the 2000 Olympics, one maniacally competitive runner came out on the track for the 100 meter dash with a tourniquet in place around his left arm. After the gun went off, he ran about halfway down his lane while pulling a small meat cleaver out of his shorts. Then he stopped, hacked his left hand off and threw it over the finish line. Official time: 5.9 seconds. Afterwards he tightened the tourniquet, went to the hospital and retired from sports with an unbeatable world record.

This was when the governing bodies for track and field decided to define the completion of a race as when a runner's chest crosses the line. Which is why you have so many runners now, women and men both, getting breast implants.

You see? That's the kind of thing that puts me off about sports.


Copyright 2009 by David Jaggard. 
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About the translation / traduction of Air France Madame Magazine and Nancy Li